The wind blew without stop all night. Each time Sedge awoke he could sense its shoulder against the apartment walls. Hear the low moan of it in the alley like that of some lone animal that had escaped death, but narrowly so. A wolf, a cougar. A predator, wounded, hidden, pursued in the dark, poised to defend itself, viciously, at all costs. Its involuntary moaning, though, bringing attention to its whereabouts. Its vulnerability.
He imagined himself being forced out into that moaning wind, the cold, out through the apartment door in his thin bedclothes. Being shoved from behind by a pair of indifferent arms pressed into his lower back. Letting him fall. Leaving him to crawl there nearly naked at the bottom of the steps in the New York dark with what was left of the warmth of the bed covers rapidly dissipating into the night air. Feeling his muscles quiver and shake and begin to stiffen.
He turned in his bed, sliding his hand between the mattress and the bedspring. Tentative. The knife was still there. A relief of sorts. It had not been found. Or if it had, it had not been moved. Or if it had, it had then been carefully returned to its original position and the sheet made taut and smooth again. He was unsure though of which of these it was.
He’d concealed it there. The sharpened blade angled so that he could grasp it firmly, quickly removing it without cutting himself. A kitchen knife with an edge so fine it could cut with ease through a tomato skin.
He’d practiced turning and reaching for it under the mattress in the darkened room so that there’d no longer be any hesitation or thought required to pull it out without a snag. Turn, reach, grasp. Turn, reach, grasp.
How he hated himself for this. Hated himself for so many things. Having it come to this point. Living as they did. How does a person come to burrow himself, so afraid, into a hole so dark, so cramped, so deep, that there is no room to move? A living interment. A hole of his own digging. A victim of his own perpetration.
All of it was all his own fault. The things that he done, like dominoes he had tipped. Not with malice. He was simply a liar and a cheat.
Oh, how his father, in that repeated, sharp-edged, punishing way of his, drilled into him the horrid shamefulness of lying and cheating. The sting of the man’s hand against his face. And so why, or how, had it come to this? That he had come to this. This was not who he wanted to be.
To have become so numbed, so indifferent to the feelings of others. Those he’d claimed to have feelings for. To loathe himself for what he’d done, was doing, to others. A spreading web of unexpected repercussions of thoughtless, self-serving, self-destructive acts. Like cracks deep within a frozen lake from an idly tossed stone.
The knife was absurd. Hiding it under the bed was beyond absurd. Would he actually use it? Of what use could it possibly be? And then what would become of him? He’d not thought beyond the present. He never did. That was the most absurd of all.
One time: She asked him, “Why are you so late?”
“I had a flat and had to pull off the road and it was dark. You know how it is on the Westside Highway up before you get to the piers. No lights. The cars rushing by. No one stopped.”
“Why didn’t you call?”
“No place to call from. I was just trying to get home soon as I could.”
Another time: “Who was that on the phone?”
“Just a wrong number.”
And then: “Who were you talking to when I came in?”
“Someone from work.”
Then again: “Where did you get that horrible silk shirt in the closet? I thought you hated things like that.”
“I know. I do. I just had the urge to try something different.”
He knew she didn’t believe any of that BS. So lame. They rarely spoke of anything meaningful, sincere, anymore. A guarded barrenness between them. Mutual suspicion. What was known and what was not. It mattered what was said. What mattered was what was not said.
Him, living in a dark hole with a sharpened kitchen knife under the mattress. Her, with her back turned. Could she not feel the same way? Angry, threatened, defensive, fearful?
But what, he wondered, if anything, would she do?
One evening before she came to bed, being involved in something of no concern to him (she always stayed up late, coming to bed long after after he’d fallen asleep or merely appearing so), he closed the door and crossed the room, knelt down, and reached carefully deep beneath the mattress on her side of the bed.
It was that night, and on each successive night, for long months on end, he found himself, as he was on this night, awakened at the slightest sound or movement in the bed, hearing then the moaning wind blow. Fearing being grabbed by the neck, dragged away, and forced out into the wind, clutching, with his arms outstretched behind him, with one hand, the one holding the helpless knife, grasping ahold of the door jamb on one side and with the other attempting to wedge his fingers into the scant space between the door and the hinged frame on the other, straining, in wretched desperation, to keep himself from being squeezed out, propulsed, through the narrow opening into the cold and dark. Resisting.
It was himself he heard, crying out as a wounded, frightened animal might, or perhaps as might a man in his late thirties, feeling trapped and buffeted in the darkness by the demons of his own terrible creation. Alone and rudderless. Afraid of himself. Afraid to acquiesce to the punishment he knew he deserved. Afraid to stay and afraid to go.
“Sedge,” she said.
“Did you say something?”
“I just thought I heard something.”